Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

"I walk away to protect those that cannot protect themselves. I think you have stayed to free that child
we both have the same reasons just different methods"--Sean

I've had the story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas on my mind a lot lately. To summarize, it is basically the story of an utopia. Everyone was perfect, happy, smart, and lived in peace. Except for one child--this one innocent child was kept in a dark, filthy cellar. Each citizen was told about this child between ages 8 and 12, whenever they were mature. For the city to be happy, this child must be kept that way. Many went and saw the child. Some only learned of the child's presence and wanted to hear no more. Once they heard the truth, the inhabitants of the perfect city often recoiled and felt grief... but most got over it.

Some people though, walked away from the city with resolve. The story ended with "The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas."

The author's point of the story was basically that when we do things like buy from child sweatshops we should analyze our "ends justify the means" logic. For me though, this story inspires a lot of questions about the church. For those that walk away, how does it compare to leaving Omelas? The church makes so many people happy--it really does form a sort-of-Utopia. But who does it marginalize (even unintentionally). What is the result of the pressures of perfection (the competition of having the mormonest family in the ward)?

Walking away from both the church and Omelas means losing a path of direction, even a self-identity.

This story has been on my mind for a couple week. Finally today I talked with a good friend of mine about why it bothers me so much.

His quote:
I walk away to protect those that cannot protect themselves. I think you have stayed to free that child
we both have the same reasons just different methods

He's right. I came to BYU for a lot of reasons--but one of them was because I believe that regardless of sexual orientation, there should be a place for students at BYU. Because I know I'm strong enough to challenge the norms and change opinions.

I had lost sight of that because things are tough at times. I definitely feel like it is not an atmosphere of acceptance. My mom doesn't even know I'm gay (<.< although I'd bet money she suspects) and her response to me considering transferring schools next year was "If you leave, who will be a member of the gay rights club and the feminist club and the democrat club? Who will correct the professors when they start spewing racism or sexism or plain stupidity?"

It's almost as if my mom has known my my entire life (oh wait, she has). On the other hand, you have people like my friend Sarah, who consistently asks if I've gotten myself kicked out yet. As she said "You're not the type to stay quiet when an issue you feel strongly about gets brought up".

I try not to be. But what about today? Today I was put in a group of eight people by the TA and asked to discuss the church's position on homosexuality. No one spoke up, so one of the girls said "What do you think Julia?" I took a deep breath and tried to respond coherently

"Well, the church says that same-sex attraction isn't a sin, only acting on it is. But they don't like using the label gay, because the most important thing is that we're children of God, even though we're fine to label our selves in other ways like by our nationality or by our political party affiliation [as long as it is republican--just kidding--I didn't say that part]"

One of the more aggressive girls in my group said that I was completely wrong. She said that if we called people who attracted to people of their gender "gay" it would turn them gay--after all, we are what people expect of us. Then she said that the church needs to help them find a way to get better, a way to fix this. Everyone nodded with her.

I rebutted saying that "The church acknowledges that many people with same-sex attraction deal with it throughout their lives"

Immediately six people were arguing with me, saying that I wasn't listening and that the church just needs to help fix the gays.

Six of the eight people in our group left before the actual presentation of our information for the group. That left me and a boy that had nodded with all the girls in my group but had stayed relatively quiet. When he presented, he didn't say anything about homosexuals needing to be "fixed", but he did go on about why it was so important for people not to identify as gay.

The TA agreed with him saying that once people identified as gay they often felt they had to go live "the gay lifestyle" and be promiscuity and do drugs.

I wanted to say something along the lines of "How many people are so closeted for so long that when they finally come out, when they finally are allowed to admit they're gay, they've felt rejection from the church for years? That there is no place in the church for them? How many people come out to their family and feel like their parents don't accept them anyway, so they might as well leave? When is it plainly rebelling against the system, not because they're LBGT but because they feel that they cannot find acceptance within the system? Why do we expect those who leave that which hurt them to continue how we deem moral--they're finally free of the feeling of oppression that can come with mormon-culture"

It's true that when someone finally comes out they may lash out because they finally feel that they have a choice and a voice. Or they may have spent the last years of their life praying to be fixed with no cure. They may have never had a testimony to begin with or they may have lost the testimony they had.

Realizing I wasn't going to be cured, regardless of how important it was to me, was devastating. I lost trust in God--no matter how much I did I would never be the perfect molly-mormon. It took time and effort to build my faith back up. I didn't go out partying during that time not because God told me not to, but because I think that doing drugs, drinking, smoking, and being promiscuous are not good ideas for me. I didn't lose my faith because I called myself gay--I lost it because I had gone so long convinced that I wasn't one of those "gays", but that I was just a person that "struggled with same-gender attraction" and that if I tried hard enough, I would freed from this "affliction".

The culture of shame and silence is significantly more likely to cause a circle trying to fit in a square to balk and turn away than allowing the circle to acknowledge that it is different.

I want to rescue that child, I do. I don't believe that any of the challenges brought up in this post directly contradict the gospel of Christ--it's church culture I go up to battle against. I don't know how to help though and I don't feel like I am making any progress where I am.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I'm not insane!

So back in the first week of September of 2010, I came home from church with fast-meeting on my mind. I blogged my testimony. Last month I decided I wanted to read the blog post to see how it has changed--but low and behold, it was gone. I was so confused, I wondered if I even actually wrote the post.

Today I was looking through my old blog from like 2006--somehow it had gotten this post instead of this blog. Oops lol--and I know my mom somehow got the address for my blog from '06 (nothing bad was posted there, but still, mixing up blogs could have been bad). I feel like I've grown and changed a lot in the last five months--but evidently not so much testimony-wise. If anything, I've moved farther from a desire of having kids, at least not in the next 8-10 years. Anyway, here's the post!

What I Believe
The last time I did the long walk up to the pulpit and shared my testimony on Fast Sunday was the week I turned 12 years old. I don't really remember what I said, but I'm sure it was full of platitudes, quoting every other testimony I'd ever given verbatim.

Since then though... I guess I've tried hard not to think about exactly what I believe. It is too complicated, because my faith is nuanced, my faith is subject to critical thinking and cynicism and the frustrations of being human. It's filtered through my experiences, but hidden from the world--because if I share it, and it isn't enough, then what? Who have I harmed in the process, who would have seen my religion as a positive thing until I went and made the black-and-white a big gray blob?

I'd like to bear my testimony. I believe I have a Father and a Mother in Heaven, who love me. I don't know why they let me feel the way I do sometimes, or why things have to happen. I have a lot of trouble accepting when people say "I know God loves me because when x happened I was scared but He fixed it with y". Because for every one of these "faith promoting stories", there are 10 about where He let the child die, He let her miss the important meeting with her boss, or she wasn't prompted to go check her husband's computer history.

I believe that my Heavenly Parents loves me just as much as any of their sons. I don't know why I don't have the priesthood...and I hope that this will change, eventually (in the eternal scheme of things). If I ever get married, I will expect--nay--demand an egalitarian marriage, and I don't plan on ever being presided over. I don't believe in gender roles.

I believe in the church. Mostly. Sometimes this troubles me--as the quote by C.S. Lewis states
"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."
This worries me. A younger Julia would have said the same thing was true about the church--in fact--for the longest time I couldn't understand why inactives even existed. If you believe in it, it should change your life and you should be there every week because you want to be "edified" as we all are....right? right?

I believe that personal revelation trumps all.

I believe that polygyny, polyandry, and gay/lesbian marriages should be legal. I don't believe it is the government should tell me who to love. I don't think people should have children if they *know* they'll have no way to pay for it themselves and plan to rely on the government. And at the same time, I believe that every child is entitled to health care.

I'm not a very good mormon. My faith is lackluster and my behavior adequate at best. I fear that people look at me and assume all mormons are like me. On the other hand, it could be worse. I embrace a "there is truth everywhere" stance and a "live the way you feel will make you happy" opinion. I truly believe that God won't punish people for acting out of love. How can it be a sin if you only acted to protect someone you care about? How can it be a sin if your only goal was to help those you love? I try not to judge others but instead to treat everyone fairly.

I attend a school where to learn about the history of the middle east, we first must say a prayer. I attend a school where I'm told how short my shorts can be. I attend a school where 98% of the students are mormon. This is my choice.

Some days I believe in this choice. Like when I'm walking along having a bad day and a stranger smiles and says hello. Or when I accidentally leave my cell phone on the ground unattended for hours, and it isn't stolen. I believe in this choice when I go to my woman's studies class and hear someone say something that I was too scared to share.

This choice kills me when I hear people use the word gay as a synonym for stupid. It kills me when I realize that out of an entire 30 person class, I'm not the only one enchanted by a professor's total bull crap. It kills me when I look around an entire stadium of students doing the wave, and notice that it is only white arms flailing up and down.

This university is ordained of God they tell me--it is a divine institution. Am I serving the Lord when I go to my minimum wage job on campus? I don't believe so. I don't believe I'm serving the Lord by going to school either. I'm going to school so I can learn, so I can better myself.

I believe that when I'm taught a true principle, it isn't just me being taught. They teach me as a teacher, so I can educate my children, or my students, or whoever I end up with stewardship over.

I have no doubt in my mind that President Monson is a good man. He seems kind, honest, and hard working to me. I don't think he is perfect, but he is truly striving to do right.

I know my family loves me. I don't particularly want to live with my nuclear family forever, they're awesome but...I'd prefer to get married and live with my spouse. Who probably wouldn't want to particularly live with them.

This is my nuanced testimony, take it or leave it. Find truth where you can :)